Last week I came across an old map that decked the cover of a 1988 fundraiser calendar for the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs engaged in what would be the precedent setting land-claims case: Delgamuukw v. British Columbia.
The 17-page treasure was in the "Gitxsan" (previously Gitksan) section of MacLeod's used bookstore in downtown Vancouver, squeezed in beside A Small and Charming World by J.F. Gibson - a must read for any traveller, settler or native of northern BC . The calendar chronicles the first 4 years since a statement of claim was made by over 50 plaintiffs. The first plaintiff, Delgamuukw, whose name is now analogous to the case, was the heriditary Chief of the House of Delgmuukw. Along with over 70 other houses - Delgamuukw was purusing law-based security and ownership over his lands.
These lands (below) include territories recognized today as Terrace, Hazelton, Smithers, Houston, Burns Lake and others. Marvin George (Frog clan) mapped these tribal territories which consists of 100s of kilomters along the Skeena, Bulkley, Babine and Kispiox rivers.
Why were the plaintiffs trying to secure soveringty over land that was already theirs? Land that had never been extinguished by Treaty or any other agreement with the Crown or Canadian government? As far as the law (adox) was concerned, Gitxsan and Wet-suwet'en sovereignty continued to flow through these tribal areas.
Each month of the calendar is accompanied by the artwork of Don Monet, an Ottawa-based artist and author of Colonialism on Trial published in 1992, detailing a graphic documentary of the court case.
Some of the artwork, shows the marked inequality of legal resources and relentless weight of colonialism on small, grassroots indigenous communities. The Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en people are not alone in their exhaustive fight against Western-based Canadian legal systems. In a recent article posted by Ricochet mediaFirst Nations Finance Their Own Demise Through Land Claims Process, the authors highlight the process by which indigenous communities are indebted to the Canadian government for financing lengthy land-claims court battles called "the utlimate economic manipulation...the Algonquin are forced to pay the cost of having their land rights extinguished: they are financing their own genocide. [original link inserted]"
Fundraising. Grants, donations, feasts, bingo. It takes millions of dollars to translate one type of knowledge into another. The more I read about Delgamuukw v. British Columbia the more I see through the legal jargon, the back and forthing, the humiliation and disengenuous displays of respect. The case was a lesson in how Western (colonial) systems of ownership and property were broken down. Ask a white man to define property. Things get very meta, very fast. Delgamuukw v. British Columbia seems to me like an awakening for a few white guys, (what I imagine it would sound like in their heads): "Wow, so your song is really like a contract? Passed down from how many generations!? And because you know these songs and sing them well, it proves your ownership of that land! And owning means caring? Wow."
Intensive logging and deforestation within the lands of Marvin George's map is often cited as the impetus for the initial claims of this landmark case. Everywhere in British Columbia First Nations have had to fight, both in and outside the courtroom, to stop development and destruction on their lands.
Thugs. Big bad thugs walk into your backyard and cut down your trees - the same trees whose sap you've enjoyed for decades. So did your mother and your mothers mother. Those trees are now gone. You want to know why. You also want to make sure it doesn't happen to your neighbor.
"Yes, hello, welcome to the municipality of Frotenberg"
"Hello, the maple trees from my yard were taken. I can no longer get the sap and the critters that lived there no longer have a home."
"Im sorry the men that took the trees had a permit"
"How did they get a permit"
"From the municipality"
"How does the municipality issue permits?"
"We issue these permits within the bounds of our territory"
"How do you come to own this territory"
[Pause. She thinks. She knows the answer. 50 years ago a few white men drew lines on a page. And that was it. How did they enforce those lines she thought? She didn't have to think. She knew. Children were forced off the land into residential schools, her people were drowned in whiskey, disease...cropping...cattle...pre-emption. All of it].
Forget kickstarter. No one "gives" that kind of money. The government will loan it (at a cost). The oil companies will pay them (at a cost). Fundraising in 2015. Water ceremonies, organizing, language revitalization, sweat lodge, round dance, blockades, drumming, anti-pipeline rallies, allies, tabacco, graffiti, writing, hunting, feasting, gathering, planting, song.